Politics and civics

Israel and Palestine: 56 years of occupation

Hamas attacked Israel on October 7 2023. The Netanyahu government responded swiftly and indiscriminately. At least 1,400 people in Israel and 5,000 people in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) have been killed. Most are civilians.

One of my students at the University of Washington has had their (fortunately unoccupied) family home destroyed by bombs. They have also lost friends and neighbors.

“Two-thirds of the Palestinians living in Gaza are refugees or their descendants from the 1948 war,” according to NPR.

Almost half of the 2,200,000 are under 18 years old (compared to 22% in US).

I am only now learning the extent of the deprivation — water, food, medical supplies, construction materials, ability to travel — that is life in the OPT. Jump down the page and marvel at that photo from 2014 (then come back).

Since 2007, Gaza has been under a strict land and sea blockade by Israel that prevents civilians, along with goods like food and medicine, from easily moving across the border, contributing to harsh economic conditions and high poverty levels.

For example, The Guardian reported in May that “Israelis, including those living in settlements, use three times as much water a day as West Bank Palestinians do, according to a new report from the Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem.” Israel has controlled Palestinian water since 1967.

In 2017, the last year before the water authority stopped publishing detailed data on agricultural water allocations in the West Bank, Meshek Achiya received about 100,000 cubic metres of water, or 274 cubic metres a day (one cubic metre = 1,000 litres). Palestinians living in Area C use about 20 litres of water a day, as little as a fifth of the 50-100 litres a day minimum set by the World Health Organization.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has had the jurisdiction to investigate potential war crimes in Israel and Palestine since Palestine joined the court in 2015.

In 2021, the then prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, announced the opening of an investigation into crimes alleged to have been committed since June 13 2014 in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, the date when Palestine declared acceptance of ICC jurisdiction. Between then and early 2023, more than 3,000 people have been killed in Palestine, and more than 200 in Israel.

Amnesty International reports that Israeli authorities have “refuse[d] to cooperate with the investigation by the ICC [International Criminal Court] Office of the Prosecutor, despite a 2021 decision by the ICC to initiate an investigation into the situation in Palestine.”

Human Rights Watch notes:

Israeli troops killed well over 2,000 Palestinian civilians in the last three Gaza conflicts (2008-09, 2012, 2014) alone. Many of these attacks amount to violations of international humanitarian law due to a failure to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians. Some amount to war crimes, including the targeting of apparent civilian structures.

Vox has an excellent timeline of the 100+ year conflict in the region we know today as Israel and Palestine.

These tables provide a summary of the Vox article, supplemented by my curiosity, specifically about how Israel rations water to the OPT. I think it’s important to call out the fact that Israel is an occupying power.

Table 1: 1914 – 1967

Year   Catalyst Actor
1914 Britain declared war on the Ottoman Empire, which occupied Palestine. Ottoman Empire surprise attack on Russia
1917 Britain expresses support for “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, which then was <15% Jewish. Britain
1922 League of Nations places Palestine under British rule. League of Nations
1930s German persecution of native Jews. Many immigrated to Palestine. Germany
1938 Britain restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine. Britain
1938 Germany annexed Austria. Germany
1947 The UN proposed “two independent States, one Palestinian Arab and the other Jewish.” United Nations
1948 Britain withdrew; Israel declared its independence. Israel
1948 Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria invaded Israel  Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria
1949 Israel annexed 77% of the territory the UN had mandated for Palestine. Egypt retained control over the Gaza Strip, a 140-square-mile stretch alomg the Mediterranean, between Egypt and Israel. Jordan, the West Bank.

An estimated half million Palestinians left; approximately 15,000 were killed.

All sides + UN peace make
1954 The Lavon Affair was a “failed Israeli covert operation directed against Egypt.” Israeli Military Intelligence directed a sleeper cell of Egyption Jews to deploy bombs in Egypt. The goal: blame nationalist “malcontents, including the Muslim Brotherhood,” for the explosions. Israel
1954-55 Trial of the bombers, who were found guilty. The Israeli “government held to the public position that the Egyptian Jewish conspirators were innocent victims of anti-Semitism” until 1975, 21 years later. Israel
1955 Israel attacked Egyptian troops in Gaza, ostensibly over the innocent conspirators. Israel
1956 Israel, Britain and France invaded Egypt because it had nationalized the Suez canal. All sides
1956 The first United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was able to secure the canal and “supervise the cessation of hostilities.” UN peace maker
1966 Tit for tat between Israel and Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. All sides
1967 Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli vessels. Egypt
1967 Israel launched a “preemptive” strike that destroyed more than 90% of Egypt’s air force as it sat on the ground. After Jordan, an Egyptian ally, attacked West Jerusalem, Israel “drove Jordanian forces out of East Jerusalem and most of the West Bank.”

Israel captured the Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, Old City of Jerusalem, Sinai Peninsula and West Bank. The “conflict created hundreds of thousands of refugees and brought more than one million Palestinians in the occupied territories under Israeli rule. “

1967 UN Resolution 242 “called for Israel’s withdrawal from the territories” it occupied after the Six Days War. In exchange: “lasting peace.

Israel, Egypt, and Jordan would eventually accept the resolution. It “formed the basis of peace talks in the decades thereafter, despite the fact that its tenets were never fully implemented.”

UN peace maker
1967 The Israeli military consolidated its control “over all water resources and water-related infrastructure in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).”

Today, “Israel controls about 80% of water reserves in the West Bank, but both the West Bank and Gaza Strip face severe water stress and drought.”



Children play atop a bullet-riddled building in Gaza.
In this UN photo, children play atop a bullet-riddled building in Gaza. 2012. Flickr CC.

Table 2. 1968-1993

Year   Catalyst Actor
1973 The Yom Kipper War: goal to force Israel “to the negotiating table to cede control of the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights.” Egypt and Syria + Russia
1973 President Nixon provided weapons after learning Russia was arming Egypt and Syria. The UN brokered a cease fire (Resolution 338). US, UN peach keeper
1978 Camp David Accords. President Carter negotiated the first peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. US, Egypt, Israel
1982 An Iraq-based “offshoot of the PLO” located in Lebanon orchestrated an assassination attempt on the Israeli ambassador to Britain. . PLO
1982 Israel, in turn, invaded southern Lebanon. The prolonged Israeli siege on Beirut “led to many civilian casualties and widespread destruction.”

Israel permitted Lebanese Christian militias to enter Palestinian refugee camps. “While Israeli soldiers had the camps surrounded, those Christian militias — which hated the Muslim Palestinians — massacred hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians. Those incidents were widely condemned by the international community.”

1987 “In 1987, Palestinian frustrations had reached a boiling point following the war in Lebanon and the construction of new Israeli settlements and increased repression by Israeli security forces in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians [engaged] in nonviolent mass protests that often turned into violent clashes with Israeli security forces.”

Hamas was established as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, “an Islamist political group founded in Egypt in the late 1920s.”

1991 The US, Soviet Union, Israel, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, as well as non-PLO Palestinian delegates, “convened for the first time in Madrid to hold negotiations that created the framework for the peace process.” All sides
1992 From the UN:
“Water resources are an important material aspect of the question of Palestine and relevant to any lasting peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict…”Under conditions of Israeli military occupation, however, water resources of the occupied Palestinian territory are being diverted and used at an alarming rate by Israel, the occupying Power, at the expense of the Palestinian people…”The Israeli water authorities may restrict or prohibit individual activities connected with the utilization, distribution and conservation of water within the occupied territories.

“From 1992 – 2022, Israel has approved only 23 new wells in the POT.

1993 Oslo Accords. The agreements resulted in limited self-governance for Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip through the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA). All sides


Beit Lahiya, Northern Gaza, September 2014
A few hours from Tel Aviv. “People were living in these apartments just few weeks earlier. They came under Israeli fire in July and August.” Beit Lahiya, Northern Gaza, September 2014. Flickr CC.

Table 3. 1993-2023

Year   Catalyst Actor
2000 “Hawkish Likud party leader, Ariel Sharon, staged a provocative visit to a Muslim shrine at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… Sharon [was] reviled for his role in the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in a refugee camp in Lebanon.”

“Palestinians started protesting, initially mostly peacefully. Israel responded to the protests by firing at protesters with rubber bullets and later live ammunition, and sent tanks and helicopters into Palestinian areas.”

2000 “Within a month, the protests had morphed into violent resistance, escalating to suicide bombings and shootings inside Israel’s internationally recognized borders. In response, Israel reentered Gaza and the West Bank, ending the post-Oslo status quo, and constructed a reinforced security barrier.” Both sides
2003 Ceasefire obtained. More than 4,300 people had died, mostly Palestinians Both sides
2005 Now Prime Minister, Sharon unilaterally “[withdrew] around 8,500 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip.” Israel
2006 Hamas, an Islamist party, beat Fatah, a secular movement, in the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections.” Hamas
2006 In Lebanon, Hezbollah attacked Israeli soldiers. “Israel responded with airstrikes.” There were more than 1,150 casualties (both sides) before a UN resolution ended the conflict. Lebanon, Israel, UN peace maker
2008 Israeli soldiers launched a raid into Gaza. They killed six Hamas gunmen. “Hamas responded by firing a wave of rockets into southern Israel, although no one was injured.” According to the Associated Press, the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, “personally approved the Gaza raid” which broke the truce at four months. Israel
2009 International Committee of the Red Cross report: “Gaza: 1.5 Million People Trapped in Despair.”

“Restrictions on imports are making it impossible for Gazans to rebuild their lives. The quantities of goods now entering Gaza fall well short of what is required to meet the population’s need. In May 2009, only 2,662 truckloads of goods entered Gaza from Israel, a decrease of almost 80 per cent compared to the 11,392 truckloads allowed in during April 2007, before Hamas took over the territory… The blockade in recent months has also meant a further deepening of Gazan impoverishment, which has increasingly been regarded by specialists, as virtually irreversible without a massive effort.”

UN report: “Israel without sufficient military justification and with deliberate intention did serious harm to several United Nations facilities and caused major casualties on the part of those taking shelter in United Nations buildings and schools.”

Israel also used banned phosphorus artillery shells.

2012 “After an increase in Hamas rockets launched from Gaza to Israel. Israel retaliated with eight days of airstrikes… Almost 180 people, mostly civilians, died in the fighting. Both sides again were found to have committed war crimes by the UN.” Israel and Hamas
2014 Hamas kidnapped and killed three West Bank Israeli teens. Fighting lasted seven weeks after Israeli retaliation. Egypt brokered the cease fire.

The bombing left Gaza with “significant infrastructure damage and shortages of basic necessities, with no end to the Israeli blockade in sight. At least 2,200 people were killed, the vast majority of whom were civilians in Gaza.”

Hamas and Israel
2021 “Right-wing Jewish settlers” tried to evict Palestinian families from East Jerusalem. Israeli police raided Palestinian worshippers at al-Aqsa Mosque (Qibli Mosque or Qibli Chapel) in Old Jerusalum.

Hama retaliated with bombs. Israel retalialted with “devastating airstrikes in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.”

Israel and Hamas

Header image: Flickr CC, Alisdare Hickson
Oct. 9, 2023; London

2 replies on “Israel and Palestine: 56 years of occupation”

Well, you have certainly done a stellar job of outlining the history, as well as making the case that, as you state, “Israel is an occupying power,” and apparently has been one since its inception.

It never ceases to amaze me the way that Americans can castigate Israel, and yet be themselves an “occupying power”, having exterminated (mostly) the original inhabitants of the land – something the Israelis did not do. American history, at least the part of it that has not been whitewashed, is replete with mass murder far more terrible than anything happening in Gaza, albeit with less sophisticated technology. You might consider doing a piece on the Yakima Wars, as you live there – on land taken from the native inhabitants (not to put too fine a point on it).

When you make the case that Israel is an ‘occupying power’, one is only left with the question, if we take the now popular phrase “from the river to the sea”, one must ask, what then is the ‘plan’ for the Jews who currently live in that space? Hmmm. No one seems to address that – except for a few Neo Nazis on TikTok who are having a field day. Who knew there was such a global conspiracy? Of course, articles like yours don’t exactly help.

There are only 15 million Jews on the entire planet. Where, I am tempted to ask, do you now think they should go? Asking for friend.

Hey, Michael.

I did not know about the UN agreement for Israel to return land taken in the 1967 war, an agreement Israel then ignored. Or the water restrictions. That shocked me the most.

I do not know what the path forward should be. But Israeli leadership is again engaging in crimes against civilians in a “country” where about half of the population is under 18.

Hamas should not have taken hostages, attacked Israel. And Israeli leadership should not be blocking help, water and power for civilians.

What-about-ism is not a productive tactic. I’m pretty sure that there is no country that has a skeleton-free closet.

Some of us, imperfectly, attempt to reverse past discrimination.

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